Chains and Michelle Obama team on "food desert" stores

Wed Jul 20, 2011 2:08pm EDT
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By Jessica Wohl

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Some of the largest U.S. grocers said on Wednesday that they would join forces with First Lady Michelle Obama to bring healthy food to parts of the country, urban and rural, where access to fresh groceries is poor.

Walmart, the largest food retailer in the United States, will take part in an announcement with the first lady at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. Supervalu Inc and Walgreen Co are also participating.

All three chains announced plans to open stores in so-called "food desert" parts of the country, where people lack access to grocery stores and their fresh produce and meats. According to data provided by Supervalu, there are more than 23 million people, including more than 6 million children, live in U.S. food deserts.

Walmart, the largest unit of Wal-Mart Stores Inc, has repeatedly said that it wants to bring lower-priced fruit, vegetables and other healthy foods to food deserts. At a January event in Washington featuring Michelle Obama, Walmart said it would promote and cut prices on healthy food.

Such efforts could help Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, to win favor with city councils and other leaders who object to its efforts to open stores in New York City and other parts of the country.


While Wednesday's announcement underscores Michelle Obama's healthy food initiatives, many retailers have already been opening stores and expanding food offerings in underserved areas.

Walmart said on Wednesday that it plans to open 275 to 300 stores serving designated "food desert" areas by 2016. It has already opened 218 stores in such areas since 2007.   Continued...

<p>First Lady Michelle Obama speaks at the Walmart announcement initiative to make food healthier and more affordable in Washington, January 20, 2011. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas</p>